Friday 30 June 2017

Blue Water

Today's Canal - Stainforth and Keadby

We only had a very short distance to go to the marina where we will be leaving the boat for the next three weeks whilst we are back home. Before setting off we made use of the adjacent service facilities and then tackled the infamous footbridge.

This time, it worked perfectly for Christine on opening but was less cooperative when coming to close it again. Locals take great delight (if they are not too upset at the delay) in telling boaters how to work it!

Then it was around the corner slowly - Christine wanted to send an email to BCF about the origins of Alchemy's name - and then we turned into the marina. We already knew where we were to moor - very close to where our car was parked.

After loading up the car and final cleaning, it was time for the office to open. Sarah was as friendly and helpful as we recalled and sorted out out electrical hookup and also arrangements for various things to be done whilst we are away. We have now done over 300 hours and so a 250 hour service is due. Thorne Boat Services are booked to do that.

Eventually it was time to hit the road. As this was a summer Friday, afternoon by the time we reached the busiest parts - it was well over an hour longer than expected before we reached home but there were no specific incidents, just volume of traffic.

0.7 Miles - 0 Locks

Thursday 29 June 2017


Today's Canals - South Yorkshire Navigation, Stainforth and Keadby.

At least it was not raining when we awoke - apart from that it has been a rather grey day with a short spell of drizzle late morning.

As we were (slowly!) getting up, we realised that the oil tanker was back again. As it disappeared under the next bridge we wondered how they manage when empty as, fully loaded, they appeared to have very little spare headroom.

We eventually set off, rounded the corner at Bramwith Junction and immediately arrived at Bramwith Lock. A volunteer was on duty which was very helpful as, otherwise, it is  a rather cumbersome lock to operate.

On the permanent moorings below the lock we spotted a boat with this name. Now  quirky made-up names like this normally do not do much for us but this one did raise  a smile with its canal puns.

The following swing bridge was straightforward followed by a level pound into Thorne. Just after Stainforth we saw this double mooring ahead - for a moment we wondered with such large vessels how much room there would be to pass but it is a wide canal so no problem.

The small basin for Thorne Cruising Club was once part of a lock down to the River Don which runs close to the canal until just before the motorway bridge when it turns northward and misses Thorne altogether.

This narrows at Dunston Hill was once a swing bridge and it appears that the house was for a bridge keeper. The 1854 map shows a railway line -Doncaster and Thorne - between the canal and the river - otherwise there seems to be nothing for the bridge to link with. However, by 1909, the railway is no longer shown.

At Thorne Lock there is a swing bridge immediately above the lock and the two have to be operated in combination, using the same control box. (The bridge and gates have to be opened and shut manually however)

The lock keeper had quite a substantial hut to keep dry and warm between boats.

After the problems that other boaters had when we came up last week, we allowed the system to take its time - it does not like to be rushed! Even so, it got in a huff at the last stage of closing the bottom gates and sluices so Mike had to reset the system before it would close up and allow us to retrieve our key.

There was room on the original visitor moorings just before the service block - shorter boats can stay there on the pontoons for 24 hours. We are not booked in to the marina until tomorrow morning (although we do hope to make a good getaway as we have a lengthy journey ahead of us followed by quite a busy period back home)

After lunch we walked up to Sainsbury - only about ten minutes - for the few items we needed. We returned via Thorne Boat Services where we made arrangements for a 250 hour service whilst we are away. We had expected that it would have to be done as soon as we get back but this will save us half a day.

Time then for some cleaning. Whilst Christine tackled the inside, Mike gave the outside a complete wash down. This involved turning the boat around - fortunately there was enough width of canal nearby to do this.

5.3 Miles - 2 Locks

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Bramwith Junction

Today's Canal - South Yorkshire Navigation

It rained all night and we awoke to a steady drizzle. Everywhere was wet and puddles covered any available path or road. Before we set off Mike walked up to the village of Sprotborough. He called first at the village stores where he was able to pickup a newspaper and also some 'thins' for lunch.

He then explored the rest of the village centre - another shop called The Pantry has developed its business in several directions, possibly when being a Post Office was not enough. It claims to be a butcher, baker and food hall. It did, however, seem a little bit of everything and not enough of anything. Nevertheless, Mike bought a pork pie, also for lunch.

The village is centred around the church which is currently having extensive repairs, hence, sadly, a notice on the door saying that it has to be kept shut.

Outside the church gate is what looks like a mounting block for horse riders. Perhaps this allowed the local gentry to make a quick getaway after the service and escape being cornered by the rector!

The Old Rectory is undergoing renovations - must be extensive judging by the huge pile, of rubble that the builders have heaped up in the garden. The house looks just like parsonages were supposed to look a couple of centuries or more ago! It probably has been in private ownership for some time - it will take a deep pocket to maintain no doubt.

We later discovered that The Old Rectory has more recently been a small country guest house and that at one time it was the childhood home of Sir Douglas Bader.

Walking back down the hill Mike had to keep a careful eye for the cars - they seemed unaware of the amount of water they splashed onto the pavement!

By now the rain was clearly going to be with us all day - and certainly that was what was being forecast. Eventually we set off with Sprotborough Lock just a couple of  hundred metres away

The rain meant that taking photos was not much of an option. You will see that rain drops made their best efforts to 'photo bomb' the scene whenever possible.

We continued along the long stretch to Doncaster - just before reaching the town lock we parted company with the Don for the last time after having kept it close company for the past week.

Then followed an equally long stretch to Long Sandall Lock. A boater from one of the long term moorings below the lock kindly offered to open the gates for us. He possibly began to regret this when the control panel refused to release his key. After opening and closing the gates again it eventually let him go back to his boat. We let ourselves down and out at the other end.

Our aim for lunch was to stop close to St Oswald's Church, Kirk Sandall as well as keeping a close eye on the land just before that. A large pipe bridge had intrigued us five years ago and also when we came up last week. Some research had revealed that it was part of a large Pilkington's Glass Factory and carried waste to settling tanks on the other side of the canal and river (which run closely parallel at this point)

The factory was built in the 1920's and the company already had a strong reputation for looking after its workers. The planned to build 2000 houses close to the works, although eventually only 600 were constructed. They also provided a full range of amenities.

The factory concentrated on making plate glass, something that the company had pioneered. Alas, demand fell away in the 21st century and eventually the works closed in 2009. The buildings still stand, becoming ever more derelict although there are photos inside on a website that specialises in making a record of abandoned buildings.

Just a little closer to Doncaster is another glass works which, as far as we can tell, still operates, It was previously Rockwell but is now part of the multinational Ardagh corporation.

We stopped here because we wanted to find out more about the closed church of St Oswald, Kirk Sandall, which is adjacent to the canal. It seems that this was the medieval parish church for this area but was somewhat left to one side when Long Sandall was developed by Pilkingtons. A new church building was established in the 1960's and St Oswald's was closed. It is still maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust as well as its own Friends and a key is available but the address was quite some walk away. In the rain we did not fancy it!

A couple of details - an unidentified post (probably the remains of a cross) in the churchyard and a carved stone face from one of the windows.

A planning notice disclosed that a developer would like to build 90 houses on two adjacent fields. Although these are close to several industrial sites, the space between them and the very nearvy station has also been built on in recent years.

We returned to the boat and set off once again. It was very wet indeed, At Barnby Dun we held up lines of traffic but made sure that we did so for as short a time as possible. Just the other side is a service station and we not only did the usual range but also returned the anchor and chain to its locker. For the past ten days we have had to have it ready in the front deck as we have been on substantial rivers - initially the tidal Trent. Now that we have parted company with the Don we can put it away until the next time.

A very short distance before Bramwith Junction we spotted a mooring opportunity that also looked as if it had a clear view to the tv satellite. Most of our overnight stops on this trip have had to be at specific visitor moorings and they are not located with a view to offering a tv signal! Just for once we could take advantage of the right to moor alongside the towpath where we chose!

8.9 Miles - 3 Locks

Tuesday 27 June 2017


Today's Canal - South Yorkshire Navigation

Today's weather was about as forecast - cool, overcast with spells of light rain! Still, as water levels are well down at the moment (on this stretch not all the result of low rainfall but exaggerated by a couple of water turbines at weirs that draw off water) some rain is perhaps a good thing.

We were woken just after six by the sound of the oil tanker passing. As it was so early they did not have the benefit of a lock keeper and so one of the crew had to jump down several feet onto the lock side to operate the lock.

Despite this unfriendly picture of one of us trying to get a bit more kip, we were by now too awake and so had our early cup of tea. Later, with plenty of time, Mike walked to Morrisons for a paper - he was after other things but was not successful with them. Looks like back to the internet when we are at home!

After casting off from our overnight mooring we entered the adjacent Eastwood Lock but stayed there for a while as the water point is alongside the control cabin! We carried out a full service  as it will be a while before we can expect the next facility.

Eventually we were on our way, bidding farewell to Eastwood - we have become quite familiar with the walk from the visitor mooring above the lock to the shops! This photo shows the lower landing and how far it is from the controls.

Although the gates at Kilnhurst Flood Lock were shut, Christine discovered that the water was level so all she had to do was open and shut both sets of gates to let the boat through.

As we arrived at Aldwarke Lock we could see that the light was set to red, indicating that it is being controlled by a lock keeper. A CaRT man was also pulling out some rubbish from beside the gates - it turned out to be a sofa. Even when the gates opened the light still stayed red. Fortunately we obeyed it as a moment later a large work boat came through. It had been brought up from the base at Swinton to remove the sofa, far too heavy to manhandle out, especially when soggy wet.

We had also been warned yesterday that the lower landing pontoon had come adrift as a result of he low water level and that, although we could use the lock, it would mean a long climb down a ladder. Hence we were quite grateful that the lock was being operated for us!

It was a further surprise to discover that Swinton Lock was also under keeper control but after we had been let into the lock he pointed behind us to show that the work boat was fast approving and that we would be sharing with it! The locks are so large that there was plenty of room for both of us and plenty to spare.

Approaching Mexborough Top Lock we saw just how big the fish are in these waters!

This unused former Mexborough Flour Mill just above the lock is fast becoming derelict.

As we approached this railway bridge at Conisborough a long freight train was making its was across. Alas, by the time we had reached the other side it had disappeared so is missing from the photo.

However we did manage a quick long shot of Conisborough Castle. There are only a few places to glimpse this tower from the river and they pass very quickly.

Shortly afterwards we were intrigued by this old building just a short way away from what we took to be an old wharf. Later investigation revealed the building to have been a saw mill and that before the 1980's improvements there was a lock at this point. Look closely at what we thought to be a wharf and the recesses for lock gates can be seen easily, once you know what they are. Of course, at that time the size of locks was very much shorter, the same as those at Tinsley.

On the final river section for today we passed again under the huge Conisborough Viaduct and we wondered what a sight it must have been to be on a boat when a steam train passed overhead.

For the last part of today's journey we turned the throttle up a bit just to see how well we would run in the deeper water. It might not be F1 Grand Prix but steering a narrowboat at 5.5 miles per hour is still quite an experience! Lose just a few seconds concentration and the boat quickly heads the wrong way towards a bank or other obstacle!

As we approached the visitor moorings at Sprotborough we were relieved to see that there was plenty of room - in fact only nb Hekla, which had passed us when we were having lunch, was moored here.

Later, Christine took a short walk and took this picture.

10.1 Miles - 6 Locks

Monday 26 June 2017


Today's Canal - South Yorkshire Navigation

We awoke for our early departure to a bright blue sky and warm temperatures which stayed with us all day.

After turning around - much less windy than last night when we reversed back to the water point - we passed through the swing footbridge that crosses the entrance to the main basin.

We were to be accompanied down to Eastwood today with another boat that had been here for a week. They are artists and selling their wares to passers by.

One of the earlier commercial buildings is Sheaf Quay house which was built in 1820's originally as offices for William Greaves and Son. The basin closed for commercial traffic in 1970's and most of the buildings gradually fell into disrepair until re development project took them on in the 1990's. This building was at first a pub but that closed before very long and is now offices.

About time this poor chap was allowed to retire from his guard duties and have a well-earned rest.

We continued along the summit pound - much as before - and arrived at the top lock just before 9 o'clock. It was already unlocked and set for us and so, together with nb Hekla, we started down. Turned out that Dave, the lock keeper, had meant for us to start at 9:15 and so caught up with us at the third lock. However, he also had another boat to help down that was starting at the small marina just below the summit.

As a result we were left quite a bit to ourselves but, as the other boat was joined by a friend to help them down the flight, we were not over-stretched. But we did need to be careful as there was quite a flow of water over the top gates and our boat has to reverse almost back to the waterfall in order for the bottom gates to be opened.

Dave popped up every so often but mainly at the deep lock 7/8 just to make sure we were ware of the danger.

At the next lock, another lock keeper who we had not met before took over and helped us down to Holmes Lock.

Oh, and look! There was Dave again at the penultimate lock waiting to shake hands and bid us farewell.

We only had the bottom lock . . .

Christine opted to walk the bank for the next couple of locks.

We had been warned to keep a lookout for a work boat at the next weir. They were replacing one of the large orange buoys that protect the weir but which had been set alight by some locals!

Jordan's Lock, just after the weir, is little more than a flood lock. But Mike had to make a trip down the weed hatch as we picked up some plastic bags just a little earlier.

And so to Holmes, the last of the locks that are kept locked and where boats are accompanied.

At Rotherham Lock a CaRT person was working there and told us to keep a lookout for the oil tanker. However, we should be able to get to Eastwood before it arrives as it is a bit behind its usual schedule today.

In fact it was quite a bit later when Christine spotted that the traffic light had turned red (indicating that the lock was no longer on boater-operation). We were just in time to see it making ready to come out of the lock and on the short distance to its destination and time to unload its cargo.

As can easily be seen, it is the maximum size for which these locks were intended when the navigation was upgraded in the 1980's. Narrowboats for comparison.

After lunch we walked to the Parkgate Retail Park for some shopping, including some new shoes for Mike.

7.5 Miles - 15 Locks